Digitize your life with Evernote’s “Paperless Challenge”

When I want to find something stored in “My Documents” on my Windows machine, I have to open and close a lot of documents to find the one that has what I’m looking for. When I want to find something stored in Evernote, I rely on its ability to search through the entirety of those documents to find what I need. Very fast, very accurate.

Finding something in paper files are even more challenging, of course, and that’s one of the reasons so many people are “going paperless.”

If you’d like to join the crowd, Evernote is conducting a “Paperless Challenge” to help you. It started January 8 but there’s no reason why you can’t get started right now. Make sure you download Jaime Rubin’s “Paperless Challenge Checklist” to use as a guide.

Lifehacker just posted a comprehensive article, “How I Went Completely Paperless in Two Days.” I think two days is a bit ambitious for most attorneys due to the amount of paper in our possession, questions about security issues, and our innate resistance to change, but even if it takes two years instead of two days, it’s worth it. I’m not yet completely paperless but my file cabinets are empty, I’ve trashed dozens of boxes of paper collected over thirty-plus years, and we get very little (important) postal mail these days. I’m well on my way to digitizing and simplifying my life.

Speaking of security issues, this article has a summary of some of the options. (Hat tip to Robert Oschler, developer of the forthcoming Evernote search client for Windows desktop, BitQwik.)

Finally, my own Evernote for Lawyers ebook discusses security issues and how to deal with them, as well as helping you through the process of going paperless.

By the way, even if you don’t use Evernote these resources can still help you in your quest to reduce or eliminate the paper in your life.

Did you know: Evernote for Lawyers has a chapter on using Evernote for marketing.

Evernote for Business: Is it right for your law firm?

Evernote has launched Evernote for Business, which promises enhanced sharing capability for the workplace. For lawyers, the idea is that your firm would have it’s own business account, with a library of shared notes (documents) which employees (with permission)  can access. You and your employees can also have your own personal Evernote notebooks which are private.

Does your firm need this capability? I’m not so sure.

Personal Evernote accounts already allow sharing. You can set up one or more notebooks in your account and share those notebooks with others in the firm. Sharing basic firm documents such as email templates, checklists, and blank forms is pretty straightforward. Where things get hairy is with sharing client files or other non-public information.

In Evernote for Lawyers, I discussed the idea of storing client files in Evernote. If it’s just you who is accessing that information, your comfort level will depend on whether you feel the need to encrypt that information before uploading it. The more critical issue is sharing that information electronically with others in your firm.

Evernote can be accessed anywhere there is an Internet connection, so if your employees aren’t as careful as you are, someone who is not authorized to access those shared notebooks might be able to do so. If your secretary’s laptop is stolen, for example, your client files could wind up in the wrong hands.

I don’t know how Evernote for Business handles permissions and other security issues, but if it makes shared access to private information more secure, that alone would make it worth considering. The added functionality it promises would be icing on the cake.

Evernote for Business is $10 per month per employee, a small investment if it allows you to set up a secure virtual filing cabinet for your firm. But that remains to be seen.

Are you planning to use Evernote for Business? Let me know in the comments.

Evernote for Lawyers shows you how to use Evernote for marketing, GTD, blogging, AND storing client files.  

Marketing legal services the Evernote way

You know I’m a big fan of Evernote. I use it all day long for everything I do in my work and in my personal life. I detailed my use in my Evernote for Lawyers ebook.

I’m also a fan of how Evernote does their marketing. They use a “freemium” model–giving away their apps and service for free, believing that users will fall in love with the product and sign up for the paid service.

Their free service is not stripped down. It has everything most people would want. The paid version provides additional capacity and features.

Evernote understands that the more people who use their free service, and the longer they use it, the more who will subscribe and pay.

Evernote does not advertise. They rely on word of mouth–satisfied users sharing their experiences with the product.

Their model works. Evernote has some 40 million free users and 1.4 million paid subscribers. They have recently achieved a billion dollar valuation.

Attorneys who offer free consultations are following a similar marketing model. The more free consultations they give, the more paying clients they get. Some attorneys take things a step further, offering not just free consultations but free services to get prospective clients to “try before they buy”. If you offer a free will, for example, a certain percentage of clients will want to upgrade to a trust or other paid services.

Evernote does not pressure users to upgrade. They provide upgrade links in their desktop, web, and mobile apps, but users are reminded to upgrade only when they try to use a paid feature or go beyond their free monthly usage limit.

There’s something attractive about a company that doesn’t push you. They give you value, lets you know there’s more available, and leave it up to you to come to them. Contrast that to what many companies do: they push, they chase, they sell.

I don’t know about you but when I’m chased, I usually run the opposite way.

Evernote provides value through their service and also through their blog and newsletter. Their blog provides tips and uses for making Evernote more useful and it’s fun to read.

Marketing consultant Jim Connolly wrote today about Evernote’s newsletter, contrasting it with other newsletters that do little more than sell. He says Evernote’s newsletter gets it right for three reasons:

  1. Their newsletter actually contains news
  2. Their newsletter makes Evernote more valuable
  3. Their newsletter doesn’t push

Connolly and I agree that providing valuable content that enhances the user experience with the product is effective in making the case for upgrading without ever asking users to do so. Their approach attracts us, instead of pushing us away with sales pitches and an abundance of links.

Attorneys deal with issues that don’t always allow for such a laid back approach. If it’s in the client’s best interests to push them to take action, a little push is not a bad thing. Nevertheless, I think we can all learn from Evernote how to be more attractive and let people sell themselves on hiring us.

People like to buy. They don’t like to be sold.

Evernote and my plan for achieving “Inbox Zero”

I have tens of thousands of emails in my Gmail inbox. At last count, 16, 503 are unread. I have over 50 labels set up. I don’t use any of them. It’s a mess

When I first learned about Inbox Zero I swooned. The idea is intoxicating. When your inbox is empty, you are no longer overwhelmed by email. You are in control. You enjoy a Zen-like feeling of tranquility. You process your email inbox once or twice a day, keeping it at zero. You have a “mind like water”.

I loved the idea, but the thought of going through tens of thousands of emails was about as appealing as a state bar complaint.

Email has long been the final frontier in my productivity makeover. I’ve resisted changing for a long time. But now, I have a plan.

My plan involves my favorite productivity tool, Evernote, which I use for collecting information and managing my projects and tasks. I use it all day long, in every part of my work flow, as my tool for Getting Things Done. Read my previous posts on how I use Evernote for getting things done.

Right now, when I get an email that requires action of any kind (a reply, a call, review, read, etc.) or that is related to a project I’m working on, or is something I want to keep for reference purposes (receipts, newsletter ideas, research, documents, etc.), or something I am waiting for, I forward that email to Evernote. I then tag it and incorporate it into my gtd system.

If an email requires a reply that will take no more than two minutes, I do it. I may also send a bcc to Evernote.

Sometimes, I get emails requiring action that I don’t send to Evernote. An example is an email I got recently from someone I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. I didn’t want to dash off a quick reply, I wanted to give it some thought. In this case, I added a @Reply label and archived the email in Gmail. When I’m ready to reply, the label will help  me find it.

Yes, I could also send these to Evernote, but I like having the orignial email connected to my reply. And, if I do send it to Evernote, I want to do so after I’ve replied, so I have both the original email and my reply in one Evernote note.

So, here’s my plan for achieving email bliss using Evernote and Gmail:

First, when I have some quiet time, (this will probably require several sessions), I will go through my Gmail inbox, scanning (not reading) and quickly doing the following:

  1. Unsubscribing from newsletters I don’t read.
  2. Adding @Reply label to anything I need to reply to that will take more than two minutes but does not need to be tracked.
  3. Sending Action and Reference items to Evernote.
  4. Trashing or archiving everything else.

Once my email inbox is empty, as new emails come in, I will review and process them, as follows.

  • If it requires a response or action that will take two minutes or less, I will do it, then Archive it; if I want to, I can also send a bcc to my Evernote account.
  • If it will take more than two minutes but I don’t need to keep notes, add it to a project, or track it, I will label it @Reply and do it as soon as possible.
  • If I’m waiting for a reply or for something to occur, I will send it to Evernote (and add a @Waiting tag).
  • If it’s something I want to keep for reference, an important email, an exemple of a good sales letter, a receipt, or something I want to read later, I will send it to Evernote.
  • All other emails will go into Archive or get trashed. At day’s end, I will again have an empty Inbox and an empty mind.

The premise behind all of this is to identify emails that need action. That’s key. Everything else is reference and can be found through search.

Note, I will use just one label in Gmail, @Reply. I am open to adding others down the road, but only if they truly serve me. For example, I may find it easier to label emails @Read/Review in Gmail, rather than sending them to Evernote for that purpose. I may also add labels for specific projects, or use them temporarily (e.g., for promotions). But for now, one label will do.

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Have you achieved “Inbox Zero”? What do you think of my plan?

Evernote helps lawyers get organized and get things done–Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 of this series I talked about how I use Evernote for collecting and organizing information and for managing my tasks and projects. Today I want to show you the details of my set up and workflow.

Evernote allows you to organize notes in (up to 250) notebooks. Notebooks can also be arranged in “stacks” or sub-notebooks. While this does not provide a complete Windows Explorer-like hierarchal folder set-up (you can only go down one notebook level), it does provide a logical way to organize information. And by hiding sub-notebooks (click the arrow to the left) it makes the left navigation bar less cluttered.

In the beginning, I set up twenty or thirty notebooks. I had notebooks for different areas of my business and personal life, for projects, and to archive notes I probably wouldn’t need soon (i.e., finished projects, receipts, user manuals, etc.) After several months, I found some issues with this set up. For one thing, every time I “filed” a note I had to decide which notebook it belonged in. I have a lot of cross-over in my business and many notes could logically reside in more than one notebook. I had to take time to decide which notebook was best or defer the decision; either way it meant more work.

I could duplicate the note and put it in multiple notebooks. Also not good. If I ever changed or added to a note, I had to find and change the copies.

When you search for notes, you designate which notebook to search in. If you don’t remember, you have to search different notebooks, until you find it, or search all notebooks, and if I’m doing that, what’s the point of having separate notebooks?

Notebooks vs. Tags

I began reading other blogs, to see how others organized their notes. Many people use just a few notebooks and organize primarily using tags. Tags are notebook agnostic–they apply throughout your Evernote database. I’d been using tags since I first started with Evernote, but I didn’t have a system. That soon changed.

The lights went on for me when I read how some people used just one notebook. One notebook! They used tags and Evernote’s robust search function to quickly find things. I was sold. I eliminated all notebooks except two. First is my “Inbox,” my default notebook; everything goes in there first. I review my Inbox at least once a day, assign tags, decide if there’s anything else I need to do with the information, and move the notes to my primary notebook, which I’ve named “My Notes”.

This simplified approach makes my work flow much quicker and more intuitive. I could simplify it even further and use just one notebook, using a “inbox” tag to designate that a note has not yet been processed, but having the buffer of a separate Inbox notebook allows me to quickly upload notes without having to think about them and process them later.

Right now I also have two temporary notebooks. They are both “local” meaning they are not synced to the Evernote server (and I cannot, therefore, access them on the web or from my phone). The first is “Private” and includes passwords, log-ins, sensitive documents and the like. The notebook is temporary because I haven’t yet decided what to do with this information but with an eye towards simplicity, I am leaning towards merging it with all my other (synced) notes. I will probably use Evernote’s encryption function.

The other temporary notebook is named, “To be uploaded”. It is a repository for documents on my Windows hard drive, in queue to be uploaded to Evernote. There is a monthly upload limit (60 mb on the free account, 1 gb on premium) and I simply wait until the last couple of days my monthly cycle to see how much “room” remains in my monthly allotment, so I don’t exceed it. Once I’ve moved everything to Evernote, I won’t need this notebook any longer.

As for tags, Evernote allows you a maximum of 10,000, way more than anyone should need. I currently use less than 100, and, with searches and “saved searches,” another Evernote feature, I think I can get away with even fewer.

Like notebooks, tags can also be nested. Unlike notebooks, tags can be nested to as many levels as you want. You can create a true windows-like hierarchy, using tags like folders. Not only does that allow you to browse your notes, it makes for a very clean left navigation panel. I currently have only seven top level tags, as you can see in the screen shot below.

Getting Things Done with Evernote–My GTD Work Flow

As noted in my previous post, I manage my tasks and projects using David Allen’s “Getting Things Done(TM)” methodology, also known as “gtd”. If you aren’t familiar with gtd, I recommend you buy his book. You may not “get” everything the first time you read it (I didn’t), but with a little effort, I think you’ll find this to be the system that finally allows you to get organized and get things done.

I’ve set up Evernote with tags that allow me to utilize gtd. Below is a screen shot of my Windows desktop client, which I use about 95% of the time. (I occasionally use the web app and when I’m out, I use the iPhone app.)

I’m still tinkering with the names and nesting of my tags because as I use Evernote each day, I learn more about how I work best. Like you, I have different roles in life and many projects for each of those roles, as well as single “next actions” (as Allen describes them). So, by the time you read this, my tags may be different from what is now depicted, but the changes are likely cosmetic rather than functional. And yes, I know that some of what I do isn’t pure gtd.

My tag list shows the top level tags (think “parent”) and some nested ones (“children”). The “Projects” tag, for example, is used to organize “Active Projects” and “Inactive Projects” which are nested under them. Each of those tags has nested tags; to get to them, I click the arrow to the left of the parent tag.

The numbers to the right of the tag indicate how many notes have that tag. You’ll see I have 7 Active Projects and 17 Inactive Projects.

The !!Today tag is for tasks I want to do today, or as soon as possible. It is pre-pended with two exclamation marks to keep it at the top of the list. Below that is my !Next list; these are tasks I want to get to, well, next. As I complete today’s tasks, I find other tasks I want to move to the front of the line. I remove the !Next tag and replace it with !!Today.

I spend most of the day working in !!Today. That keeps me focused on doing what I’ve already determined I want to work on before I work on anything else. But I can also dip into other tags and find other tasks to do.

“Contexts” are preceded with the @ character, representing location or the tool (@Computer). Since I work from home, my context menu is pretty simple; you may have contexts for different locations and areas of your life: @work, @home, @calls, and others. The more I use gtd, the fewer contexts I’ve found necessary but they do come in handy when I want to, say, find tasks @computer, @15 Minutes, and tagged “personal,” or when I’m out and I need to find @Errands.

“Lists” are items I use regularly (e.g., my “weekly review checklist,” another gtd concept, or frequently referenced conference call numbers).

“Musing” is something I came up to tag things I’ve got floating around in my head that I need to think about. Once I’ve done that, they will be tagged !!Today or !Next or @Someday/Maybe, or they may be deleted altogether.

“Reference” is a catch all for all non-actionable items. It is my repository of notes and drafts and ideas, web clips and documents and everything else. I have nested tags in Reference for my two businesses, one for Personal, and a few other “top-level” tags. Each of these tags has tags nested within them. For example, for the attorney marketing business, I use a top level tag “am” and have nested tags for “am-blog,” “am-products,” “am-consulting,” and so on.

How I handle Projects

Each project has it’s own tag. I use a period in front of project tags to designate them as projects instead of single tasks. My project for setting up Evernote and my gtd work flow has the tag .Evernote/GTD. All notes related to that project get that tag. They will usually have other tags too, for context (@Computer, @Errand), Reference (e.,g. am-blog), and, if it’s actionable, !!Today or !Next. If I’m not sure if it’s necessary, I’ll use @Someday/Maybe.

Each project has a primary note tagged with “Active Projects” (if I’m working on it now) or “Inactive Projects” (to be done later). In this note are the objectives for the project and a checklist of tasks and/or “note links” to other Evernote notes. Thus, the main note becomes an index for the entire project with each task usually having it’s own note. That way, as tasks are done, they can be marked with a “Done” tag (or deleted) and the primary note can be updated to show that the task for that project has been done.

Evernote also has check boxes which can be used for checklists or for designating actionable tasks. Check boxes are also searchable, so you can find all tasks in Evernote that are done (checked) or not done.

Calendar: Appointments and Tasks (Ticklers)

I use Evernote to manage time-oriented tasks and projects by linking notes to my Google Calendar. (This may change once Evernote introduces a “Due Date” field which has been promised “soon”.) Each note in Evernote has a unique link. By right-clicking and copying that link, you can paste it into your calendar, either as an appointment (date and time) or as a task (“All day” event).

Every day I review my appointments and tasks, click the link and it opens the Evernote note I need for that appointment or task. (Actually, on gCal, the link isn’t currently clickable; I have to cut and paste the link into a browser window and that opens the note in the desktop app.) I also assign a “Tickler” tag to notes that have been tickled so I can browse those notes if I want to.

The Weekly Review

Every night, I go through Evernote and my calendar and decide what I want to work on the following day. Those tasks get tagged !!Today. Some days I get through the entire list, often I don’t. Tasks not done get carried forward to the following day or, if I decide there are other things I need to do first, I might remove !!Today and replace it with !Next.

I also do a weekly review, (Sunday mornings), to plan the following week. The daily and weekly review are key to making the gtd system work because you’re regularly looking at your lists and making decisions on what to do next.

As you can see, this is a very simple system. It works because it is simple and because I don’t keep anything in my head, everything’s in Evernote, which means I can focus on getting things done.

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series.